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This article by Angelina Sciolla

was prepared for the March 20, 2002 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Screenwriting: Getting Started

If your adrenalin rush watching the Academy Awards this

Sunday night is so great that you find yourself scurrying to the

bathroom

mirror to practice your acceptance speech for best screenplay, you

might also want to consider a few practical steps towards achieving

this nearly impossible dream.

Writing is, by nature, a solitary job, so do your best to

connect with other writers via professional organizations,

conferences

and even community writing circles. Read, commiserate, workshop and

discuss your project. You’ll learn a great deal about how (and if)

others understand what you’re trying to create, and you’ll be inspired

and motivated by the company of other writers.

Spend some time on the Internet . More and more,

screenwriters

are finding markets for their work online. A number of reputable

producers

and writers have created sites for shopping your screenplay. These

sites typically offer critique, contact lists, and will connect you

with interested producers. Some, like www.scriptsharks.com,

www.writerscriptnetwork.com,

and www.zoetrope.com (Francis Ford Coppola’s literary site), are

fee-based. Others, including www.InZide.com and

www.Hollywoodlitsales.com,

are free. All boast a success rate for writers of about 25 percent

(hard to believe given the improbable statistics of number of

screenplays

vs. number of movies actually produced) and claim to have matched

unknowns with producers surfing for fresh talent.

Enroll in an introductory class or workshop. Find one

that suits your goals, and most importantly, your particular skill

level. A lot of novelists, journalists, and playwrights turn to

screenwriting

and although they’ve got a slight advantage because of their

professional

experience, they still need to understand this very specific form

of writing. Novices with little or no professional writing experience

might do better with an introductory class, supplemented by some

general

writing courses.

Don’t think you have to plunk down hundreds of dollars either. A

reasonably

priced day-long workshop is a better investment of time and money

for a beginner than a pricier semester-long class. If, after you’ve

completed an introductory course, you wish to study more, then

investigate

the more intensive — and more expensive — options. Be sure

to check out the credentials of your instructor as well. You’ll

benefit

from the expertise of someone who is active in the industry either

as a writing consultant or screenwriter with a few credits.

Visit the bookstore . Syd Field and William Goldman are

two names you should commit to memory. Goldman, the award-winning

writer of numerous films including "All the President’s Men,"

is the author of "Adventures in the Screen Trade: A Personal View

of Hollywood and Screenwriting," a mix of practical advice and

amusing Hollywood dish that will have you chuckling between rewrites.

Syd Field gets to the heart of things with "The Screenwriters

Workbook" and "Screenplay: The Foundations of

Screenwriting."

You’ll learn about basic three-act structure as well as how to

properly

format your script, right down to the type of binding and font you

should use. Visit www.scriptfly.com for other must-have titles.

Attend writer’s conferences and film festivals. They are

a great way to network and learn about the industry. Many of these

events, notably Sundance, also sponsor screenwriting contests and

offer seminars and panel discussions for the further edification of

the film professional. These are also great places to discover trade

secrets and upcoming industry trends — the sort of impromptu

commentary

that doesn’t make it into movie magazines.

Finally, make a small investment in Final Draft software.

This simple-to-use program handles the formatting work for you and

allows you to create outlines and organized script notes. Once you

are ready to commit dialogue and scene changes to paper, you’ll be

amazed at how easy Final Draft makes this process.

A little reading, a little guidance, and a little study can

go a long way. And pay attention to details. Producers and agents

are fickle about what they want and how they want to receive material.

When you’ve uncovered their idiosyncrasies and accumulated the

necessary

knowledge and tools, you’ll have a better excuse for practicing that

acceptance speech.

— Angelina Sciolla


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